American Indian monitor, activist
MONTEREY - When they erected the Holiday
Inn in downtown San Jose, Ella Rodriguez stood atop a heap of rubble
A Salinas resident, Ms. Rodriguez was a trailblazer, one of the
earliest monitors who looked out for American Indian burial remains
during construction projects.
``She was one of the kind they don't make anymore,'' said Gary
Breschini, a Salinas-based archaeologist who worked alongside
Rodriguez through the soil sifting and recovery of human remains on
the hotel project.
Breschini described Ms. Rodriguez as dedicated, stubborn,
Ms. Rodriguez died Dec. 22 following a yearlong battle with
cancer. She was 73.
From her elementary school years in Watsonville, to her work as a
monitor and consultant on local Indian history, Ms. Rodriguez would
not allow her culture to be ridiculed or forgotten, as she described
in a one-page autobiographical narrative.
``I was always defending my Indian side against the school and
other kids,'' she wrote. ``I fought back the best I could; clothes
were ripped and teeth flew.''
Thus would go her first six or seven years in school.
The Pajaro Valley Unified School Board finally sent her off to
the Stewart Nevada Indian Trade School, just outside Carson City,
Nev., where she attended school. Ms. Rodriguez estimated that she
was about 13 at the time.
Born in the foothills near Mount Madonna in Watsonville in 1932,
Ms. Rodriguez returned to the Central Coast after what she called
her ``forced'' relocation to Nevada.
Reared as an Ohlone Costanoan, Ms. Rodriguez said that she
learned late in her life that she also had an equal amount of
She spent her early adult life working in agricultural fields and
canneries. That was before she was called to service by her
ancestors. In 1975, she set upon a construction site in Watsonville
where a burial site was said to exist. The developer was against
After rallying members of the American Indian Movement, Ms.
Rodriguez and the group occupied the site for three months. They
were successful in preserving a small portion of the burial ground.
It was then that Ms. Rodriguez decided to dedicate her life to
preserving American Indian remains. Two years later she descended on
the Holiday Inn site. As Breschini explained, Ms. Rodriguez's
actions were controversial because it was one of the first occasions
Native Americans had asserted their rights to burial sites.
``She wanted the heritage to be found out and passed on,'' he
Among her last jobs was monitoring improvements at the Pebble
Beach Co. golf courses and several power plant projects in Santa
Clara County. Despite her defense of the burial sites, Ms.
Rodriguez's own words also demonstrate a gritty pragmatism and a
recognition that cooperation was necessary. ``It is sad that human
remains have to be disturbed, but progress is a very aggressive
force and we often have to compromise,'' she had said.
Breschini and his wife and research partner, Trudy Haversat,
relied heavily on Ms. Rodriguez's experience and knowledge when they
wrote their book, ``The Esselen Indians of the Big Sur Country''
last year. ``I could never be what she was,'' said her sister Clara
Ortiz, who cared for Ms. Rodriguez in her last year of life.
Born: July, 5, 1932, Watsonville
Died: Dec. 2, 2005, Elkhorn
Survived by: Her sister, Clara Ortiz of Roseburg, Ore., and
brother, Joe Williams of